Today’s Must Read

Why should it just have been U.S. Attorneys? Or the General Services Administration?

Yes, Karl Rove — who, the White House has insisted for years, isn’t involved in foreign policy — instructed his White House deputies to repeatedly brief State Department officials and U.S. ambassadors in key foreign missions about GOP electoral priorities. The push to enlist U.S. embassies into the service of Rove’s dream of a permanent Republican majority, according to today’s Washington Post, has been a feature of the last six years. They involved the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Peace Corps. Needless to say, all are expected to be non-political agencies.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is going to explore the depths of the White House’s political outreach to foreign-policy officials during today’s confirmation hearing for Henrietta Holsman Fore, nominated to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID employees apparently received two briefings for the White House in the last ten months.Sure enough, this one is another Rove-Sara Taylor special:

In one instance, State Department aides attended a White House meeting at which political officials examined the 55 most critical House races for 2002 and the media markets most critical to battleground states for President Bush’s reelection fight in 2004, according to documents the department provided to the Senate committee.

On Jan. 4, just after the 2006 elections tossed the Republicans out of congressional power, Rove met at the White House with six U.S. ambassadors to key European missions and the consul general to Bermuda while the diplomats were in Washington for a State Department conference.

According to a department letter to the Senate panel, Rove explained the White House views on the electoral disaster while Sara M. Taylor, then the director of White House political affairs, showed a PowerPoint presentation that pinned most of the electoral blame on “corrupt” GOP lawmakers and “complacent incumbents.” One chart in Taylor’s presentation highlighted the GOP’s top 36 targets among House Democrats for the 2008 election.

The news that Taylor wanted State officials and diplomats to know which races the Republicans are focusing on for 2008 immediately raises the question of how U.S. foreign policy, and specific binational relationships, is unfolding right now to serve a partisan agenda rather than the national interest. Rarely does it matter for, say, U.S.-Portugal relations whether the gentlelady from Oak Bluffs belongs to one party or another. The administration insists that there’s no quid pro quo at work here: that the briefings were merely “informational,” as opposed to something the State officials and diplomats were expected to act on. If that line sounds familiar, it should: it’s what the administration has been saying ever since the briefings — and the scope of the scheme to “inform” virtually every agency and department in the government — came to light.

It looks as if the White House’s political clash with the Democrats focused heavily on the European theater:

The ambassadors included in the Rove briefing were Eduardo Aguirre Jr. of Spain, James P. Cain of Denmark, Alfred Hoffman Jr. of Portugal, Ronald Spogli of Italy, Craig Stapleton of France and Robert Tuttle of Britain. Gregory Slayton, the consul general to Bermuda, also attended.

In total, the seven diplomats donated more than $1.6 million to Republican causes from 2000 through 2006, according to a Center for Responsive Politics report on large Bush donors who were named ambassadors. The State Department, in a letter to Biden, said that Cain — one of Bush’s top fundraisers in North Carolina — requested the meeting with Rove and did not notify department officials in advance.

Naturally, the White House insists it did nothing wrong. Spokesman Scott Stanzel asked: “Why shouldn’t the president’s appointees have our understanding of the political landscape?” Similarly, Sean McCormack, the former National Security Council mouthpiece now serving as spokesman for the State Department, called the meetings “entirely appropriate.” At this point, both the scandals and the talking points are simply shifting from one agency to another. Could the White House save everyone some time and prematurely insist it won’t comply with any Foreign Relations Committee subpoenas?

Update: Here, just as a refresher, is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) grilling Sara Taylor about the briefings earlier this month.